Commentary on 2 Peter: Chapter Two

by Ray C. Stedman

Watch Out for False Teachers

2:1 FALSE PROPHETS. . .FALSE TEACHERS: Peter moves naturally from the utterances of the prophets of the past, who had false prophets among them, to the teaching of the apostles today which would be opposed by false teachers. The difference in terminology suggests that the false teachers among Peter's readers made no claim to being prophets, but were distorting apostolic Christian teaching into dangerous heresies. Peter's certainty that there will be such false teachers probably rests upon the Lord's predictions (See e.g. Mt. 24:4-5 and Paul's words in 1 Timothy. 4:1-3). These teachers could be recognized by their surreptitious (secretive) approaches; by the logical deductions to which their errors led (denying the Lord who bought them) and by their often abrupt removal from the Christian community (See I John 2:19).

2:2 DESTRUCTIVE WAYS. . .WAY OF TRUTH: The chief characteristic of the false teaching in view is its ethical implications, for destructive is the Greek word aselgeiai, meaning shameful or deliberately immoral. Such teachers glory in the privileges of Christianity but treat with indifference its moral demands. This attitude infects many people. Some televangelists are modern examples, who illustrate also the inevitable impact of such teaching: the way of truth will be blasphemed. The truth of Christian redemption is held in contempt by many because of the immoral behavior of professing Christians.

2:3a COVETOUSNESS: The primary motive behind such false teaching is greed. They do not hesitate to take hurtful advantage of their followers in order to enrich themselves. Their words promise much, but their ability to deliver is nil, therefore they are properly accused of exploiting by deceit. Mayor summarizes their approach thus: "Their teaching was flattery; their ambitions were financial; their lives were dissolute; their conscience was dulled, and their aim was deception."

2:3b JUDGMENT. . .DESTRUCTION: Here Peter turns from the description of the false teachers to their fate, introducing a section that runs through 2:10a. Their judgment is already determined from of old, and their actual destruction is not sleeping (nustazei also applied in its only other N.T. use to the sleeping virgins of Mt. 25:5). They fell asleep and missed the Lord's return--the judgment of these false teachers does not sleep for it occurs either at death or the parousia of Christ. There follows three vivid examples of such judgment from the past. (Similarities between this chapter and Jude are discussed in the Introduction).

2:4 THE ANGELS WHO SINNED: The incident of Genesis 6:1-6, referred to also in Jude 6, is here cited as the first example of God's process of punishment. Certain angels rebelled at God's choice of ministry for them and presumed to engage in forbidden lustful practices with the daughters of men. This presumptuos action met with immediate judgment: they were cast down to hell, literally, to Tartarus, the place of final punishment in Greek mythology. It is a place of severe limitation of action (symbolized by chains) and almost total lack of knowledge and understanding (symbolized by darkness). In that condition they await the final judgment, which is what Revelation. 20:14 calls "the second death" i.e. the lake of fire. Let the false teachers beware, for God is well able to do the same to them!

2:5 DID NOT SPARE THE ANCIENT WORLD: Peter's second example is the flood which came upon the ungodly in Noah's day. He mentions this again in 3:5-6 and also in 1 Peter 3:20. Noah is termed a preacher of righteousness since his righteous life put to shame the licentious neighbors among whom he lived. His building of an ark would certainly have been an occasion for explanation of the coming judgment and an invitation to repent and believe. But his entreaties fell on deaf ears, just as the truth of Christ's atonement fell on the deaf ears of the false teachers of Peter's day. Such indifference to truth brought the ungodly of Noah's world to certain destruction. It fell upon them suddenly and unsparingly, as it will ultimately fall upon any who, in any age, turn their backs upon the saving grace of God.

2:6 SODOM AND GOMORRAH: The third example occupies vv. 6-8, and was one of the best known incidents of the ancient world. Probably some form of volcanic action destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but Genesis 19 makes it clear that sensual wickedness was the primary cause. This was intended to be a fearful example of the terrible seriousness of not observing the sexual distinctions which God has determined. From time to time these distinctions have been cast aside and widespread breakdowns in social structures have inevitably followed.

2:7-8 RIGHTEOUS: Three times in two verses Lot is described as a righteous man. The Genesis account portrays Lot in Sodom as a man of the world, going along with the culture of his day. Here we are told his true inward reactions: he was oppressed (depressed) by their filthy conduct; he was tormented (upset) by viewing their lawless actions. That capacity for outrage marked him as truly righteous, and it was for that reason that he was delivered by divine intervention. This example stresses the importance of grieving over the condition of the lost, and refusing to accommodate to their amoral standards.

2:9-10a THE LORD KNOWS HOW: God is in full control of all events. He can deliver the godly (eusebeis) ) out of (not "away from") their trials, and He can also see that the unjust (adikous) do not escape their day of punishment. Two particular lifestyles are singled out for judgment: those who live in unclean lust (this suggests the sins of Sodom), and those who hold authority in contempt (this looks back to the angels who sinned, and also to v. 1 and the false teachers who were "even denying the Lord who bought them"). It is characteristic of Peter that despite his blunt words of warning there is always great emphasis laid on God's willingness to rescue all who trust in him, even such men as Noah and Lot who both lived in a morally degraded and polluted society.

2:10b-11 PRESUMPTUOUS, SELF-WILLED: These words introduce the section from 10b-19 where Peter examines in detail the character and methods of the false teachers. Their actions are characterized by audaciousness; they are recklessly daring, defying both God and man. Behind that presumption lay a commitment to self-pleasing. They are determined to have their own way at all costs. The story of Jim Jones and the tragedy of Guyana is a modern case in point. As an example of this brash self-centeredness Peter contrasts their insulting language with that of the angels who respect the office of their adversary even though they must oppose his actions. It is difficult to know exactly whom the apostle has in view in this reference. The dignitaries against whom the false teachers cavil are probably angels, though they could be church leaders. Perhaps the false teachers object to the role the angels played in giving the Law to Moses, since that Law (the Ten Commandments) would condemn their immoral and selfish actions. But, in contrast, angels who are much greater and more powerful than men do not behave so disrespectfully even when justly confronting an enemy of the Lord. The reference here is almost certainly to Jude 9 where Michael, the archangel, disputing with Satan over the body of Moses does not revile the Devil but simply says, "The Lord rebuke you."

2:12 LIKE NATURAL BRUTE BEASTS: Again, the false teachers are likened to animals in their behavior, for they act in ignorance of the realities of death and judgment and, like animals, react only to the present circumstance, heedless of the consequences. They pour abuse on things which they do not understand, like an angered dog attacks someone whom he thinks is threatening him. Since they act like animals they will also end up like animals; their inner corruption will be the cause of their destruction, as a mad dog is sometimes shot to death to keep him from harming others.

The phrase perish in their own corruption can actually mean corrupted by their own corrupt living. That is the irony of sinful living; its very pleasures in the end become distasteful. Sensuality is self-destructive.

2:13a CAROUSE IN THE DAYTIME: A third charge against the false teachers: their language is insulting and extreme, unlike the angels; they act out of ignorance of the consequences, like animals; and they are perverse in their display of evil, like those who carouse in the daytime. Even pagan society thought it strange and unnatural to hold drunken revels in broad daylight, but these teachers have no qualms about practicing their concept of Christian "liberty" in open display. But the law of inevitable consequences still holds: they will receive the wages of unrighteousness, i.e. spiritual death ("the wages of sin is death" Romans. 6:23).

2:13b DECEPTIONS: This word (Gk. apatais) governs the thought of vv. 13b-19. The feasts mentioned were the Agapae, or love-feasts, built around the celebration of the Lord's Supper. (Some Greek mss. substitute agapais for apatais here). The heretics were so self-deceived that they actually thought they were celebrating their freedom in Christ by drunken revels at the Lord's Table! But in fact they were spots and blemishes, disfiguring and degrading the purity of the Lord's feast.

2:14a ENTICING: Another form of their deceptive practices. Their own eyes were full of adultery (literally, full of an adulteress), i.e. they looked at every woman as a possible sex partner! Further, they cannot cease from sin for such lustful fantasizing had become habitual with them. As a consequence they easily convinced certain unstable souls in the church that this was acceptable Christian behavior and lured them into sexual immorality. The participle enticing (Gk. deleazontes) means "to catch with bait." These young, unstable converts, not yet fully grounded in Christ, were easily "hooked" into a lascivious lifestyle. It happens in every age!

2:14b TRAINED IN COVETOUS PRACTICES: The latter half of v. 14 belongs with vv. 15-16 since Balaam is an example of the covetous ways of the heretics. Peter's charge is serious for he maintains the false teachers have deliberately trained their hearts in greedy practices. Covetousness (Gk. pleonexia) is used of both greed for money and greed for bodies, i.e. illicit or unnatural sex. Here it is primarily greed for money or comforts. But, as Jesus plainly stated, "You cannot serve God and mammon (money)" (Matthew. 6:24). To attempt it is to put oneself under the curse of God, i.e. to be doomed to perish with the world in its rejection of God's grace.

2:15-16 THE WAY OF BALAAM: The account of Balaam in Numbers 22-24 is used in the N.T. in Jude 11, Revelation. 2:15, as well as here, to depict a dangerous temptation to Christians to forsake the right way and to go astray. Balaam's primary downfall was that he loved the wages of unrighteousness. He sold his prophetic powers to the pagan king, Balak, and for a promised monetary reward sought to curse the children of God. On his way to do this he was rebuked by his donkey, who saw what Balaam could not see--a mighty angel with drawn sword standing in the path. By this story Peter is encouraging those unstable souls who were easily impressed by the teaching of the heretics. "A dumb ass possessed sounder prophetic vision than a religious official whose moral sense had been perverted by gain from wrongdoing" (Barnett). Though Balaam's subsequent sin of introducing immorality into the camp of Israel is not mentioned here, it is significant that both avarice and lust were the major motivations of the false teachers here. The two sins are seldom far apart!

2:17 WELLS. . .CLOUDS: Continuing his exposure of the deceitful ways of the heretics Peter accuses them of awakening false expectations, like springs which, when approached, contain no water; or like storm-driven clouds which darken the earth temporarily as if it will soon rain heavily, but prove to be dry. The temporary but barren darkness they cast is prophetic of the great darkness which will be their fate forever (Calvin).

2:18 THEY ALLURE: The verb is deleazo "to catch with bait" again. The bait is great swelling words of emptiness, i.e. high-sounding promises which prove to have no real content. The hook is the lusts of the flesh, the normal sexual desires of the young, which are practiced in wrongful ways. These heretical teachers clearly were implying that once the soul is saved, what is done with the body is of no account. Paul answered this same teaching by showing that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and one cannot misuse it without giving insult to the Spirit who lived within (1 Corinthians. 6). Peter indicates the ones under attack from the heretical leaders were new Christians for they are barely escaping (NKJV margin) from the pagan society around, described as those who live in error. This guarding of the flock from "wolves in sheep's clothing," as Jesus described them, is one of the chief concerns of the apostles, and is one of the chief tasks of pastors.

2:19 SLAVES OF CORRUPTION: The irony of wrong teaching is that it promises great freedom, but its advocates are themselves already slaves!

The gospel offers release from the corruption (moral ruin) of the world, but these teachers were themselves involved in that moral ruin by their immoral practices and greedy motivations. How, then, could they bring their disciples into liberty? They could not, of course, for the disciple becomes like the teacher. Jesus had stated clearly, "Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). These teachers were themselves in bondage to sin; all they could do by their teaching was to bring others into bondage with them.

2:20 THEY HAVE ESCAPED: The subject of this phrase is the heretical teachers who are called slaves of corruption in v. 19. V. 20 makes clear that they were once orthodox Christians who had turned from the pollutions (Gk. miasmata) of the world through the full knowledge (Gk. epignosis) of Christ. But now, though they kept on chattering about knowledge (gnosis) it was only head-knowledge for they had been misled by the "way of Balaam" (i.e. greed), and a false view of liberty, and had fallen again into immorality, even becoming teachers of a lustful lifestyle, so the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. This phrase is almost certainly taken from Jesus' words in Matthew. 12:45, and probably reflects Peter's memory of that occasion. The next two verses explain what that worse end involves.

2:21 BETTER. . .NOT TO HAVE KNOWN: Knowledge (especially "full knowledge") without obedience is exceedingly dangerous! Jesus said of Judas that it would have been better for him not to have been born, then to have turned from the truth he had known (Matthew. 26:24). The words way of righteousness and holy commandment stress the ethical content of the knowledge these false teachers had. They knew what was right and holy but they deliberately chose to keep on doing what was wrong and defiling.

2:22 ACCORDING TO THE TRUE PROVERB: This v. reveals the ultimate truth about these teachers: they never had really been born again by the knowledge about Christ they had learned! The parallels here with 1 Corinthians. 10:1-12, Hebrews 6:6, and Hebrews 10:26 are evident. They will be given over to the fate they have chosen, for despite all their protestations their nature remains unchanged. "The dog which has got rid of the corruption inside it through vomiting it up cannot leave well enough alone; it goes sniffing around the vomit again. The pig that has got rid of the corruption outside by means of a scrubbing cannot resist rolling in the mud" (Michael Green). The first proverb is found in Proverbs. 26:11; the second is from the Syrian story of Ahikar, obviously known to our author and his readers. Both dogs and pigs are referred to by Jesus, in Matthew. 7:6, as pictures of mankind far away from God. A review of the whole chapter shows that yielding to the money-mad, sex-obsessed, materialistic and anti-authoritarian drives of modern society are indications that an individual's heart is not in touch with the lordship of Christ, but has succumbed to the delusions of the devil instead. Pride in knowledge is the point of attack.

Text of 2 Peter, RSV and NIV Versions
Chapter One
Chapter Three